Continuing from my previous posting on the theme of listening to your body, and earlier ones commenting on the yin/yang properties of foods, over the years I have come to notice a very clear instance when my body chooses what food it needs to correct an imbalance.
At times when I’m very stressed, I simply don’t feel like eating meat. In the past I thought it was because meat was too ‘heavy’ to be managed by my digestive system when my stomach was feeling uncomfortable or even nauseous from stress.
In a way that’s true, but what could also be happening is that meats are also very yang. This chart shows where different foods lie on the yin/yang scale in macrobiotics.
Stress is one of the characteristics of a body that is excessively yang. Therefore, the body leans towards foods that are neutral or yin in nature to balance out the excess yang. If the body is seriously imbalanced, then it will crave for things on the other extreme of the scale — e.g. if you are very stressed and yang, there’ll be a tendency to reach for sugar, coffee, alcohol and processed junk food.
However, information about food sensitivities often mention that the very food you crave is likely to be what triggers a reaction, in other words, it worsens the problem rather than balances it. So far, I have not found a satisfactory explanation of why food intolerances lead to cravings, so I still don’t really know how to integrate this information with the concept of the body’s natural leaning towards yin/yang food balance. [For further reading on cravings in terms of need for nutrients, yin/yang balance, acidic/alkaline balance and 'satiety' or ability to stave off hunger & the urge to eat, see The Food and Mood Handbook: Find Relief at Last from Depression, Anxiety, PMS, Cravings and Mood Swings by Amanda Geary, Chapter 2, 'Craving Balance'.]
When looking through the book, Wood Becomes Water: Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life by Gail Reichstein, I noticed her reminder to vegetarians to be careful of the tendency to eat too many yin foods. Going by the chart above, you’ll be all right with enough eggs, diary, miso and tamari (I won’t recommend too much salt!).
Here are more tables to help you balance your yin/yang by adjusting your food intake to your emotional and physical state at a particular point in time.
All charts are from The Self-Healing Cookbook: Whole Foods To Balance Body, Mind and Moods by Kristina Turner (2002)
Although it doesn’t say so in the title, the Turner book is actually based on macrobiotics. I have found it very helpful in learning to understand yin/yang, because the principles are quite well-explained. (I’ve also found these articles by Richard Seah very useful.) It can be rather frustrating not understanding how to tell what foods are yin or yang. Once, I went to see a Traditional Chinese Medicine physician who told me that my constitution was too yin, rattled off a few foods I should avoid (such as green beans 綠豆 and tomatoes) but had no time or patience to explain more, and sent me off with some Chinese herbal potions. Besides the herbal medicine, I was very keen to know how to balance my system with foods in a more general way. I’m still trying to learn enough to do so.
However, the problem with macrobiotics & Traditional Chinese Medicine is that the classification of yin/yang in the two systems is rather different. This analysis of the development of the macrobiotics movement (2005) deals with the issue, as does this page and this one.
I don’t know enough to suggest how to manage this, apart from falling back upon the basic method of simply listening to your body, for which muscle testing is a very useful tool. In other words, instead of subscribing to any rigid ideas about what can or can’t be eaten, it’s about the Big Picture, rather, as Singapore macrobiotic counsellor, Richard Seah, explains here. This takes into consideration the needs of each individual and
Even though macrobiotics seems to place a lot of importance on diet, it actually covers very broad areas including the environment, climate, the landscape (as in geomancy and feng shui), Northern vs Southern hemisphere and even cosmic forces. It also considers human relationships, exercise, work and other activity, emotions, attitudes and a host of other lifestyle factors.
I gave up on macrobiotics when I felt that I couldn’t learn enough about the basic principles from the books I was reading in order to apply them to my own personal conditions. For one thing, most books are targeted at readers in temperate countries, not tropical Southeast Asia. However, as I try to understand and read myself and my circumstances more accurately, I may get better at putting into practice ways of balancing yin & yang.